Trials of two in trooper's slaying will be moved Judge calls impartial jury hard to get in Somerset Co.

January 30, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

PRINCESS ANNE -- Saying that he had not seen such extensive media coverage of a local case in 5 1/2 years on the

bench, Somerset County Circuit Judge Daniel Long ruled yesterday that two men accused of killing a state trooper last fall can be tried outside the county.

But Judge Long appeared resistant to requests by lawyers for the men to move their cases off the Eastern Shore altogether, saying that "north of the Choptank" should be sufficient. He said a location for the trials of the two men would be announced this week, after he had talked to judges in other counties to determine who could accommodate the cases.

The judge issued his ruling after hearing arguments from Somerset County State's Attorney Logan C. Widdowson and Baltimore lawyers representing Ivan F. Lovell and William S. Lynch, who are charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 17 shooting of Tfc. Edward A. Plank.

He was the first Maryland state trooper to die in the line of duty in almost five years.

"Frankly, folks, I feel it would be very difficult to seat an impartial jury," Judge Long said. "I thought about this long and hard, and I am persuaded in both cases."

He said he had "never seen coverage like I have of these two cases. The victim, Trooper Plank, was a graduate of the local high school. His wife and family are very respected and very visible members of this community."

The two men also face drug, weapons and assault charges, all stemming from Trooper Plank's death on U.S. 13 during an early morning traffic stop and a subsequent break-in and assault at the home of Andrew and Margarite Robinson, who subdued the intruder and called police.

Mr. Lovell, 25, of Manteo, N.C., was arrested at the Robinson house; Mr. Lynch, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was arrested less than a day later when he walked out of the woods into a roadblock on FTC U.S. 13.

The state has indicated it will seek the death penalty against Mr. Lovell, and the law grants him an automatic change of venue if requested.

Mr. Lynch's change of venue was given at the judge's discretion. They will be tried separately.

Their lawyers cited Somerset County's size -- fewer than 24,000 people in the 1990 census -- and the widespread sympathy for the Plank family.

"We honor and recognize the deep feelings within the community, but we have to recognize that it can have deleterious consequences," said Thomas J. Saunders, chief of the Capital Defense Division of the Office of the Public Defender in Baltimore. He is representing Mr. Lovell.

Describing Somerset County as "a web of people who depend on each other, see each other" regularly, Mr. Saunders said the case also could have harmful consequences for jurors, if they made an unpopular decision.

Both defendants, handcuffed and shackled, attended the hearing.

Also attending were four Maryland State Police officers in uniform, Trooper Plank's widow and his parents, and about a dozen friends and relatives.

Family members, some moved to tears during the 90-minute hearing, left quickly when it ended.

Lawyers for both defendants said Dorchester or Kent counties would be acceptable.

"I'm looking for a county which would understand the presumption of innocence in this case," William B. Purpura, who is representing Mr. Lynch, said after the hearing. "Population size and racial makeup is a consideration."

Both defendants are black. Trooper Plank was white. The Robinsons are black.

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